Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Living With Falling Oil

By now it's no secret that the declining price of oil and introduced a certain level of economic uncertainly as we close out the year.  I won't pretend to be an expert on the economics of it all but for the curious I will say that while I find it concerning and I find myself paying careful attention to it these days, I'm not overly worried or freaking out things.  I can only give the perspective of one person working in the heart of Canada's oil patch here.  Work has slowed down in recent weeks but part of that was due of course to the Christmas holiday.  I try to keep my nose to ground and ask my higher ups for their take on things.

I'm not freaking out for a number of reasons.  Firstly of course, that doesn't really help anything and mitigates clear thinking.  I know in my trade here I'm fortunate in that as it is tied in to maintenance, it's important to the overall functioning of the plant.  Oftentimes scaffolding is needed for many of the other trades to do their jobs.  Things will pick up again in the spring as they always do with shutdowns and as a co-worker succinctly, if inelegantly, phrased it "Shit here always breaks."  So, while there might not necessarily be tons of work to do, there will always be something.

Also, while it can be expensive to live here, I seem to do ok.  Certainly there were time in the past when I was much worse off so having that sense of perspective is rather helpful.  I find that I'm just not in to buying tons of consumer goods beyond what I need for my day to day living.  I suppose I'm a marketing team's worst night mare.  It's not that I'm overly frugal or anything like that but I just don't like to be burdened down with tons of useless crap I don't really need.  I know that as an apprentice tradesman owning his own house here in Fort McMurray that that does make me a bit of an anomaly but I'll admit I take pride in that.

While having tenants can be tedious at times, in a town that is often stereotyped as a place people go to make a quick few buck before quickly leaving again, I've been fortunate to have some long-term tenants in place.  I know I could easily charge more than what I do but it has led to a level of stability that makes budgeting so much easier and I'll take that over gouging people any day.  Trading a few dollars for consistency works for me.

And finally of course, I don't worry to the point of paralysis because I know the region has gone through this before.  Housing prices were still recovering after the last bout of economic uncertainly in 2008 shortly before I moved here and things bounced back.  That's just the nature of a commodity-driven industry and you have to be able to adjust and roll with the punches.  People I know who have lived here much longer than I have don't seem to be freaking out.

Like more than a few Canadians this morning, I woke up, had my morning coffee and eagerly anticipate watching Canada's junior hockey squad square off against the US this afternoon.  Things still seem pretty normal.  Have a happy New Year everyone!

Monday, December 22, 2014

Double Cross

I've been wanting to blog about the recent changes to the political landscape here but its so bizarre that I'm still trying to wrap my head around it all.  Of course I'm talking about a recent decision on the part of Wildrose Party leader Danielle Smith, along with eight fellow MLA's to quit the Opposition and join the government.  I'm confident that on a per capita basis at least, Alberta politicians must lead the country in terms of "crossing the floor".  Yes, you guess correctly.  It's all left me rather cynical.

Included in the group of defectors is Rob Anderson, who initially crossed the floor from the PC's to Wildrose in 2010.  I suppose this move makes him a "double crosser".  Crossing isn't exactly new.  Winston Churchill even engaged in this.  But Anderson is hardly Churchill and I still find the practice distasteful regardless of my political leanings.  Perhaps the best solution is to simply make the practice illegal as Manitoba did in 2006.

Smith has labelled this gutting of the first real effective opposition the province has had in some time as a "victory for Wildrose" but my guess is that the more than 450 000 Albertans who voted for her party in 2012 may feel a bit differently.  It's simple political opportunism.  If you go in to a store to get something you expect to be given what you pay for.  It's a simple concept but one apparently lost on many a politician today.

Wildrose announced today that Heather Forsyth would be taking over the reigns as interim leader.  And of course Foryth is also a "floor crosser" herself, having changed from the PC's to Wildrose.  Argh.  It can all be pretty frustrating.  As for the Liberal Party, which now finds itself tied with 5 seats in the Legislature with Wildrose...well it's leader, used to be a PC.  To be fair though, he was given the boot from the PC caucus (as was our former MLA here, Boutillier) and sat as an Independent prior to becoming Liberal leader.  At any rate, we now have to Opposition parties who are now led by former PC's who will now chastise the government over this latest round of floor crossing.  It's all enough to make a person tear their hair out.

At any rate, it will be interesting to see how the government will now manage with nine new MLA's (12 really, given that 3 other WRP MLA's crossed the floor prior to this mass defection) who were just weeks earlier criticizing the very government that they are now a part of.  And since I'm at it, I suppose I can mention Rimbey-RockyMountain House-Sundre MLA Joe Anglin who quit the government to sit as an Independent and Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo MLA Mike Allen who pled guilty to soliciting undercover officers for sex, was booted out of government to sit as an Independent and then allowed back into the PC caucus via a secret vote this past July.

I've heard speculation of a possible spring election, well in advance of 2016.  All in the interest of looking out for Albertans I'm sure.

Wouldn't it be great this Christmas to have politicians with an actual spine and some integrity who will actually look out for Albertans rather than just themselves??

Friday, December 5, 2014

Alberta Schools and GSA's

With the controversy and dialogue that has emerged recently with the debate over the Alberta government's Bill 10 I thought I'd weigh in with some thoughts of my own.  Anytime you decide to mix politics and education issues you are bound to get a storm it seems.  I should start out by saying that I believe strongly in GSA's and that the Bill in its current form is utter garbage.  (For a timeline of how exactly we got into this trainwreck, this post here provides a good overview of events.)   In its original form, Bill 10 would allow students who wanted to form a GSA, but whose school boards refused, the right to appeal to the provincial human rights commission.  Yes, apparently, in this day and age, some politicians feel one must ask another group or body for some basic rights to do something.  Sad.  An amendment to the bill would have allowed students in this situation to appeal or the right to form a GSA to the Education Minister instead.  One can only imagine if that homophobe Jeff Johnston still held the education portfolio.  This amendment in my view places too much power in the hands of a single individual.  And while I'm not that familiar with our new Education Minister (as he is still new to his post) and I'm sure he is a step up from the last train wreck we had, I find the notion of placing the final decision in the hands of a single individual rather abhorrent.  In the end for me, it all boils down to issues of liberty.  If Catholic school boards are going to fight this tooth and nail, I say, fine.  Don't accept our tax money.  It's NOT your money.  It's OUR money.  Kindly, do not use my money to advance intolerant views and perpetuate the stereotype of Albertans as a bunch of regressive hicks. If you want to have your own school system and call the shots, fair enough.  I'm actually in support of that.  Just DO NOT expect me to pay for it.

Thankfully the new premier has grown a brain and decided to put the bill on hold  for further consultations.  While this will inevitably delay things, its certainly better than passing the Bill in its current form.  I've spent the last couple of days sifting the many arguments against the formation of GSA's through my head.  They really should put logic and rhetoric back in to the education system because many of the counter-arguments I've heard out there are simply facile and ridiculous.  Easy enough to mock but I won't do that here because I want to keep a serious focus on an important issue.

I suppose its easy for some politicians to downplay or ignore students who want to form such groups but really, it won't be too long before these students can vote.   Hopefully we won't have to wait that long before we get some action on this issue.  I would urge all our MLA's to think this issue through carefully and vote cautiously.   (I should add that it appears that our own MLA appears to be in support of GSA's.)  LISTEN to what STUDENTS want.  Because there is an election here in the next couple of years.  Many current students will be old enough to vote.  They WILL remember.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

A Soldier's Prayer

Prayer Before Battle

When 'neath the rumble of the guns,
I lead my men against the Huns,
'Tis then I feel so all alone and weak and scared,
And oft I wonder how I dared,
Accept the task of leading men.
I wonder, worry, fret, and then I pray,
Oh God! Who promised oft
To humble men a listening ear,
Now in my spirit's troubled state,
Draw near, dear God, draw near, draw near.
Make me more willing to obey,
Help me to merit my command,
And if this be my fatal day,
Reach out, Oh God, Thy Guiding Hand,
And lead me down that deep, dark vale.
These men of mine must never know
How much afraid I really am,
Help me to lead them in the fight
So they will say, "He was a man".

Major Alex Campbell
Officer Commanding
"A" Company
Hastings and Prince Edward Regiment

Killed In Action
25 Dec. 1943
Ortona, Italy

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Golden Buffalo and Shell Place

A potential new development and developments just completed have caught my attention in the past few days here but I have only had time to sit down to write about them now.  This new signature building, now in the permit stage, could grace our downtown skyline in the future.  It's encouraging to see movement afoot when it comes to downtown revitalization, and while one single project can't be expected to take the full burden of renewal, this appears to be a step in the direction, given the mess that our last city council created on this front.

Aside from giving us a better skyline (which currently consists of a short brown government building and two 1970's concrete apartment buildings) the new project will provide much-needed retail and hotel space in our downtown core.  I also like the idea that this will lead to some of the big players in the oil sands having their offices here, rather than down in Calgary.

The second big development, now pretty much finished to my knowledge is Shell Place, the new stadium down at MacDonald Island.  It's been some time since I've past by it (with all the big equipment and fencing, there really wasn't all the much to see) but I look forward very much to seeing it in the near future.  This new facility will play host to the Northern Kick Off in 2015.  (Yup, CFL action right here in Fort McMurray.)  In addition, Shell Place will also play a leading role in the 2015 Western Canada Summer Games coming here next August.

And of course, since we are on the topic of new projects, I would be remiss if I failed to mention that all these athletes and visitors (along with other travelers to our region) will be arriving here through our recently revamped INTERNATIONAL airport.  An interesting year ahead is shaping up for the region.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Post-it Positive

A high school student in Airdrie, Alberta approaches her locker to find that someone has broken in to it.  Worse, she discovers that the perpetrator used her iPad to access her Facebook account to tell her to die.  Rather than play a victim, the girl decides to turn a negative into a positive and post sticky-notes with positive, encouraging messages around her school.  Sounds like a display of compassion and initiative.  Sadly, incomprehensibly, however, her school didn't see it that way.  Rather, some genius "educrat" decided that this was littering and reprimanded her for this kind act.  

This issue is set in my head especially since I took an opportunity at work yesterday to centre out a couple workers (who I don't even know since they work in another part of the plant) for some good work.  I'm not trying to sound like I'm bragging here.  I'm really not.  But I've come to learn that a kind word can go a long way.  You never know what that other person is thinking.  They could be having the worse day of their life.  They might feel unappreciated, misunderstood or simply need a little encouragement.  The thing just don't know.  A positive word CAN make a difference and this is something I try to put into practice in my own life on a daily basis.  Sure, it won't change the world, but it could make a big difference to the person receiving that good word.

Anyhow, that is the back story to why this incident here speaks to me.  Frankly, my first though was that the principal of this school is a very poor leader, a complete idiot, or maybe worse.  After stewing over it I thought I do a bit of searching to find out just who this principal was since now name was given in any news source I've seen yet.  Ah, the wonders of the internet.  Of course, it didn't take long to find a name and an email.  And of course, I couldn't just leave it at that.  I had to email the guy.  Now, its not clear whether the principal was the individual who delivered the reprimand however, as the principal of the school one would expect that he would have the final say in disciplinary decisions.  The buck stops here, as the old saying goes....leadership 101.

The principal's name is Ed Polhill.  Here's what I wrote......

Dear Mr. Polhill,

It is with great concern that I read of a decision by the administration of your school to reprimand a student who did a brave thing by standing up to bullies.  As a parent and former educator myself, I find this move very disappointing.  A good word to a person, be it verbal or in the form of a short written note (as was the case here) can make a big difference in a person's day.  Surely the upside of this is worth more than the value of a few sticky-notes.  I find it sad that your school puts more value on joining the anti-littering, environmentalist band wagon than on the value of students.  With respect, this is shameful.  Perhaps if you got out of your office and actually spoke to some of the students you would get a better sense of how this one kind-hearted student's altruism put a positive spin on their day.  Sometimes the actions of one student are just as effective at combatting a problem as are fancy jargon and programs from all sorts of experts on the topic of bullying.  I feel what this young lady did was quite admirable.  She should be thanked for showing some initiative, turning a negative into a positive and contributing in such a healthy way to her school.  She certainly should not be reprimanded.  This is ridiculous.


Darcy Steele

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Into The Field and Conquering Fear

I had a change of scenery last week as I was transferred to a different area of Suncor and have joined a crew "out in the field" as the saying here goes.  It's also referred to as being "put on tools."  Anyhow, its been a busy last few days to say the least.  My work schedule changes as well as I get 2 extra work days.  The extra time off over the summer was nice as it was the most time I've had off to enjoy summer since I moved out here.  I actually started out in the field on some much-appreciated over time days so beginning work down in the plant with 5 overtime days in a row is a pretty nice way to kick things off.

At the risk of sounding self-absorbed, I feel vindicated by the last week.  I'm not a physical type of guy though I don't mind getting my hands dirty when I have to.  I've had a few people tell me I'd never transition successfully from an academic, indoor job to working out in the elements.  Boo to them.   Truthfully you probably wouldn't want to have the physique of a football linebacker in my trade anyway given the endurance you need, the tight spaces you sometimes need to fit through and the climbing.

Yeah, for some reason I didn't give a great deal of thought when I started out working in the yards here that scaffolding can involve a lot of climbing around in high places.  You see, I do have a fear of heights.  Or at least I thought I did.  I'm pretty much sure I've cured myself of the worst of that now.  I spent the bulk of this past Sunday afternoon over 200 feet up on a structure helping to modify a hoarding around some piece of equipment.  (The view was great.)  The first 185 or so was mostly stairs which wasn't so bad.  It was once I reached a platform with a 30 foot steel ladder anchored to the structure that I thought I had met my Waterloo.  I came very close to apologizing to my journeyman and telling him it was just too much for me.  But since I was already most of the way up and didn't want to let my crew down I thought "the hell with it," took a deep breath and just did it.  Major butterflies about halfway up.  They tell you not to look down and it really does work.  I took my time, made sure I had a firm grip on the rungs and before I knew it I was up.  A couple more smaller ladders and I was at the top of the structure.

Going down that big ladder the first time was probably hardest part of the day.  You step through the safety gate, slowly get swing your feet out on to the ladder and put that big empty space below you out of your head.  Holding the rungs in a death grip helps.  Okay, I do exaggerate here.  I looked straight ahead and distracted myself by humming part of a tune in my head.  Turns out I could hum the thing 4 times by the time I reached solid ground.  (Thanks Bach.  Is there anything you can't do?)

I probably made that climb 5 or 6 times over the course of the afternoon.  By the end of the day, it was easy.  At one point I remember being shocked that I was so relaxed being up at that height.  Sometimes in this trade you have to tie off and work or hang outside of the structure temporarily depending on the requirements of the job at hand.  Now, of course I didn't do this (though a couple of the guys I worked with did) and wouldn't be asked to or even allowed to do it at any rate, but it was a pretty big victory for me.  I can be a tad introverted at times.  Sometimes, I've let my fears stop me from doing things.  Not that I woke up that morning thinking "Hey, I think I'll climb 200 feet in the air and hang outside of it just for kicks".   Oddly, I had a harder time yesterday climbing around 4 or 5 feet off the ground on a scaffold.  It takes some getting used and I am of course tied off to the scaffold but I didn't want that fact to give me a false sense of security and overstep my limits.  In reality, its the smaller slips and falls that can give you problems if you aren't careful rather than ones from 200-300 feet.  A little gallows humour always helps.  "Hey it's not the fall I'm worried about.  It's that sudden stop at the bottom.!"

Perhaps in the end it was more my WORRY of being afraid of heights (or acrophobia to give it its technical name) rather than actually BEING afraid of heights.  In the end, for me at least, it was simply mind over matter.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Some Parents Need a Slap Upside the Head

When I first heard of the tragic shooting of a firearms instructor in Arizona, it was difficult to even begin to wrap my head around it.  Several thoughts went through my mind.  Nothing good ever comes out of the end of a barrel of a gun so I'm stunned that parents would even consider allowing their child to handle an Uzi sub machine gun.  I should say that I am no anti-gun nut.  I believe strongly in the responsible use of firearms.....the operative word here being "responsible".  Clearly, giving a military-style weapon to a child is not being responsible, regardless of circumstances.  Growing up, I never shot anything more powerful than a .22 calibre.  (Yes, I know an Uzi uses the same calibre round, but there is a huge difference of course in the amount of recoil, which clearly was a big part of the problem here.)  I did once shoot a 12-gauge when I was around the same age as the young girl in this tragic tale and I still remember to this day the amount of "kick back" I experienced.  It quite literally knocked me on my ass and my ear protection flew off.  Even today as an adult, before I fire any weapon the question of just how much "kick" I will experience is one of the things going through my mind.  I always remember that little episode of my childhood as it gave me a healthy respect for the power of a firearm.

I did a lot of shooting as an army cadet and again in my early 20's in the reserves.  I know that even the standard Canadian automatic weapon (known as the C9, if I recall correctly) can be a challenge when you first use it.  Heck, I recall from basic training a few people (myself included) finding if a challenge to fight the "barrel rise" from the recoil.  And this was when firing using a bi-pod in the prone position. Needless to say I grew up with a healthy respect for firearms.  I don't mean to get in to the whole gun control debate here as there are obviously strong opinions on both sides of this issue.  I do believe strongly in the responsible use of firearms and I struggle to see how this sad incident is an example of that.  I think its truly sad and speaks volumes of American society in general where anyone, let alone the parents of a 9-year-old feel compelled to put such a weapon into the hands of a child no matter what kind of instruction may be available.  These aren't toys out of a video game.  They can kill if not approached with the respect they deserve.  Sadly, this lesson came too late here.

Monday, August 18, 2014

The Comedic Genius of Jim Prentice

(My apologies for strong language but a fellow can only put up with so much nonsense.  Anyhow, to be foretold is to be forewarned.)

Apparently former federal MP Jim Prentice was in town  this past weekend to drum up local support for his run at the premiership to be decided next month.  Now nothing against the guy personally but when I read in local media here about some of what he had to say, I could only really shake my head and wonder who writes his talking points.

In the world according to Jim, we have great local leadership in our local MLA's.  I'm sure we do......ok, other than the fact that one of them was arrested, charged and found guilty on solicitation charges.

He also won't commit to time lines for improving or increasing infrastructure.  Of course not.  Because that would require commitments that he would then be responsible for and I'm sure Jimbo has been around in politics long enough to see the folly in that.

Preston Manning once said, in reference to the former Chretien Liberals, that you can repaint a house but underneath it all, it's still the same old house.  So forgive me if I take Mr. Prentice's claims for transparency with a grain of salt.  Government transparency sounds good on the campaign trail or in this case a leadership run but frankly, I've seen nothing to make me think that changing leaders, or repainting the house as it were, will really make a difference.

I don't like to be a cynic.  Honestly, I don't.  But after 43 years in power, how can this sorry lot claim to be innovative or to be striding toward transparency?  Wouldn't transparency be like telling Albertans which MLA's voted to allow local MLA Mike Allen back into caucus after being found guilty of solicitation?  Ah, I can hear the crickets chirping.

Wouldn't ridding government of red tape and bureaucracy be like having our hapless education minister not dicker with the math curriculum when it is clear that it isn't necessary and many parents don't want that to happen anyway?

Wouldn't it be great if our PC MLA's were like Nascar with all the names of their sponsors glued to them?  Because I sure as hell know I wouldn't see my name on their shiny suits.  Can we just dispense with the bullshit that our politicians have my best interests at heart?  Can the PC's just be honest and admit that at this point it's all about holding on to power rather than the fiction of "public service"?

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Cat Days Of Summer?

It must be the heat.....because I really don't know how else to explain her rather odd sleeping positions as of late.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Mother of All Encores

One of the things I love about classical music is discovering a new work or a piece by a composer you may not be all too familiar with.  Such was the case this afternoon when I decided to escape our mini heatwave here and indulge in a few tunes.  While Mozart is of course familiar to most, oft listened to and performed one of the unfortunate side effects with music of the Classical era is that there is a great deal of other great music out there that deserves to be better known but often isn't simply because....well, it's not Mozart.  Anyhow, I came across some small ensemble works by Italian composer Domenico Cimarosa and its been a great listen so far.

I can perhaps be forgiven for not being overly familiar with the man given that I probably only played one or two of his piano pieces growing up, nothing of his during university and also for the fact that he was known in his day (like many an Italian) as an opera composer.  He wrote more than 80.  Cimarosa also had the misfortune of being a Mozart contemporary.  He was a child prodigy, didn't die young or have fiery romances.

He DOES however, have one very interesting claim to fame for having the best encore in operatic history.  Following the premier of his opera, The Secret Marriage in Vienna in 1792, a mere two months after the death of Mozart, Cimarosa received the mother of all encores, so to speak.  So impressed was Leopold II with the opera that he ordered dinner for the entire company and asked for the entire work to be repeated.  When I first read about this, I didn't know what to make of it.  I had to go look it up.  I did attend a performance once by English pianist Murray Perahia at the University of Michigan 20 years ago where he played 4 or 5 encores of some smaller pieces and I thought THAT was impressive.  But apparently, this mammoth encore actually did happen.  Having an opera heartily endorsed by the Emperor is certainly a good for the resume, especially since unlike with some earlier composers, Cimarosa didn't always have a powerful patron.

In this one respect, though Cimarosa certainly trumps Wolfgang hands down.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

The Neighbours You DON'T Want vs The Neighbours You DO

When I first heard the story and read the article about some crazy neighbours, my initial feeling was one of gratitude that they didn't live next to me.  It was only a day or two later that it was pointed out to me that this story actually happened in town here.  Now, I have no idea exactly where these sweet hearts live but as I said, they don't live next to me thankfully.  I feel bad for the family on the receiving end of all this nonsense and it makes me grateful for the good neighbours I have had since I've lived here.

Since I moved in here, the houses on either side of me have both changed hands but I haven't had any issues.  My one former neighbour, who had lived these for 20+ years was a real gem, oftentimes cutting my front lawn for me when I was working insane hours.  He even saved me money when, in the course of a conversation he let me know that the former owners of my house had mentioned to him that the air conditioning unit (which to this day sits on my back deck) was too small for the size of my house here.  Better to buy a bigger unit if I was looking into installing one, he said rather than to waste money installing one that probably wasn't up to the task.  The house on the other side of me was a rental when I moved in and despite the stereotypes of a group of guys renting rooms in a house, they were great neighbours.  One was actually a DJ for a local radio station apparently.  A couple years ago a younger couple moved in and while I don't know them that well due to work schedules, they are quiet and keep to themselves.

Obviously, the neighbours mentioned in the news item above, have some serious issues involving territorial aggression, and perhaps paranoia.  Whatever their issues, I'm thankful they aren't MY neighbours.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Hot, Hot, Hot

Now, if it was a dance club I was referring to in my post title or perhaps even some night-time er, "extra-curriculars" it wouldn't be such a bad thing.  Unfortunately, in this case, the title is in reference to the weather here.  Yes, I know it's summer and I realize the mercury can climb but it still messes with my head that it can be just as warm here (sometimes even warmer) than down in Edmonton or Calgary.    Having spent quite a few years in northern Canada, its taken me a bit of time to readjust to hotter summers.  It wasn't until last summer that I began to feel comfortable with temperatures over 25C so I WAS on the right road though with +32C and no AC, I think I've reached the upper threshold.

Now I DO actually have an AC unit.  It's been sitting out on the back deck since I bought the place.  It was never hooked up and frankly, I never gave it much thought as I figured it wouldn't be all that necessary.  For the most part, I've managed fine without it though today I must admit to casting a few longing glances at it from the kitchen window.  Even the cat, who is usually pretty bouncy, seems rather lethargic.

At least I don't have to work today, which is a small mercy.  Given the nature of my job, even temperatures around +20C can feel downright uncomfortable under the right conditions.  Ok, well I was SUPPOSED to work today, just to finish off the last day of my shift.  Two buses usually come by my stop very close to the time I get picked up.  Now, its the second bus I'm supposed to take but for some reason, my bus came first and so without even thinking I let it pass by.  It wasn't until the second bus (for the mine) came by that I clued in to my mistake.  That plus the fact that another fellow who takes my bus from my stop all of a sudden wasn't standing there anymore.  Ooops.

I'll just blame the heat.

(And yes, I know I've been a horrible blogger the past little while.  I can't blame THAT on the heat.  But I have my regular laptop down in Edmonton getting a fix up so I'm resorting to using my old MacBook.  So once I get my baby back I should be good to go.  And hey, I get to go down to Edmonton to pick it up so I figured I might as well make a couple days out of it.  Plus, apparently, its not quite as warm down there.)

Monday, July 7, 2014

Tory, Tory Same Old Story....The Return Of Mike Allen

When I first caught word that beleaguered MLA Mike Allen had been allowed back into the Tory caucus I thought someone must have surely imbibed a bit much over the weekend.  But, no.  There it was in black in white as I began to peruse media sources.  My shock turned to disbelief and then anger, quite frankly.  I'm still stunned as I try to make sense of it all and I've had to step away from my keyboard several times here in order to get something coherent down on paper, or screen as it where.

When I learned prior to the last provincial election that our city would get a second MLA do to some electoral boundary tinkering I was quite pleased.  The city has grown, and continues to grow, and its important that this growth be reflected in the legislature.  What I didn't realize at the time though was just how much of a double-edged sword this would be.  Thankfully, as it turned out, Mike Allen is not in my particular riding here, but he still represents our community as the riding of Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo covers that part of Fort McMurray not included in Fort McMurray-Conklin.

If you recall, Allen was arrested on a government junket about a year ago in Minnesota, where he attempted to solicit sexual services from two ladies who just happened to be undercover cops.  Oops.  Anyhow, after seeing his trial delayed a few times, Allen was finally found guilty of solicitation late last year and fined $500.   The guy actually got off pretty easy as he was facing the real possibility of jail time.   Rightfully, then Premier Allison Redford gave Allen the boot from the PC caucus, one of the few things I actually agreed on with her.  Rather than do the honourable thing and step down, Allen decided to hang around as an Independent.  Always nice to have your community represented in part by a useless Opposition MLA.

And now Mike Allen is back, welcomed with open arms into the Tory fold.  Will the government do the right things and make pubic which MLA's voted to have this misogynist pig back as a caucus member? It would be the right thing to do of course.  But then again, politicians are a self-serving bunch.  Having THAT information floating about would surely put one hell of a dent the re-election chances of whoever was foolish enough to vote the goof back in.   This government never ceases to amaze.  It's like they have some sort of competition to see just how low they can set the bar before voters finally tire of all their bullshit and choose to get rid of the whole rotten bunch.

Consider this a warning shot of sorts.  Mike Allen certainly does not represent me and he does not represent my community.  To the government, stop treating us like bloody children.  What are the results of this recent vote?  Why do you feel the citizens of this community and this province should not be aware of how our MLA's voted?  I for one would love to know.  We're adult.  We can handle the truth.

Something is very wrong in society when a politician can pull this kind of nonsense and essentially get a free pass.  I for one, am sick and tired of the excuses.  We have issues here in this community and we certainly do not need this issue taking up the time and space.  Enough, Mr. Allen. Your antics grow tiresome.

Please grow a brain, Mike.  Use your head.  NO, not THAT head.  THAT one got you in this mess in the first place.  Use your OTHER head.  Resign and end this circus.  That is all.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Post By-election thoughts

With 94% of the votes counted as I type this it's guaranteed that our riding will be sending another Conservative to Ottawa.  I can't say I'm too surprised as Fort McMurray-Athabasca has elected either Conservative or Reform MPs since its creation.   However, as I watched the results come in tonight it was clear early on that the Liberals weren't about to fade quietly into the night.  I suspected they would pick up some votes but was surprised by just how many.  The Liberals had put a great deal of time and energy into the campaign here though and were able to tap into what seems to be a growing frustration with the government.  I figured that if the Liberals improved their vote count only marginally then such a small increase would quickly be forgotten in Ottawa and things would carry on as before.  With Conservative support dropping from 72% in 2011 to roughly 47%, clearly a warning shot has been fired across the bow.  It will be interesting to see how these results carry over into the 2015 general election.

Two things do concern me as we move forward.  Firstly, the abysmal voter turn out.  This riding is notoriously bad in this respect.  I'm sure the fact that the by-election was called so close to Canada Day played a role. Apathy too.  The Conservatives have held this riding for so long that there was no doubt a sense among some of "why should I even bother?"  Frankly, I don't know what the answer is.  We had 3 days of advance polling and many people out on site were able to leave their shift early to vote (as I did) AND still get paid for the full shift.  Clearly, we can do much better.

My other concern has to do with our MP-elect.  I wonder how responsive David Yurdiga will be to people's concerns when he didn't bother to show up for any of the candidate debates.  I will say that this played a role in how I voted.  And I've generally voted Conservative for as long as I've been old enough to vote.  I will say that Mr. Yurdiga has his work cut out for him if he hopes be re-elected next year.

While much of my focus over the past few weeks was obviously on the contest here I did pay a little attention (or at least as much as my schedule would allow) to the other 3 ridings which were also facing by-elections.   John Barlow's win in Macleod was pretty much a no-brainer.  Anything less than a Conservative romp would have been a huge disaster for the government.  I was pretty confident the Liberals would pick up Scarborough-Agincourt but was surprised they cruised to victory in Trinity-Spadina.  Maybe I just read the tea leaves wrong on that one but I was expecting the NDP there to put up much better results.

I would like to acknowledge all five candidates who put their name forward to represent our region.  Its easy to be cynical and it takes guts to stick your neck out.  So to David Yurdiga, Kyle Harrietha, Lori McDaniel, Tim Moen and Brian Deheer....Thank you!

Anyhow, there you have it.  A bit disappointed here in the result but perhaps a strong message has been sent....yes, the oil sand are important here BUT it is not the only thing that defines us.  This region (and this city) are not a monolith but rather more dynamic than the stereotypes can sometimes suggest.  Here's hoping that at the very least, a strong message was sent to Ottawa tonight.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

By-election: The Empty Chair in the Room

When I heard about the all-candidates debate in town tonight for the June 30 by-election, my interest was piqued.  Here was a chance to see the candidates and hear their stances on the issues affecting our region.  I even considered booking today off as I was due to work so that I could attend.  In the end though it turns out I wouldn't be hearing from all the candidates because one of them would not be attending.  There would be an empty chair in the room.  I can understand candidates having busy schedules during an election campaign though I have to wonder what could be so pressing as to cause a candidate to skip out of such an important part of our democratic process.

But when I heard that Conservative candidate David Yurdiga had also passed on another all-candidate debate in Lac La Biche last week, I was puzzled, and then quite frankly, miffed.  To think that a political hopeful who wants MY vote can't even be bothered to hear constituents' concerns and questions is something I find disgusting.  Are we so unworthy of your time, Mr. Yurdiga?  If I had a dime for every time I've heard of a politician flying in for a day, gushing about how our region if the "economic engine of Canada" and then flying out and ignoring the challenges we face, I could probably retire.  I have to admit I find if disturbing that a candidate can blow off not one, but two public forums and then potentially win the seat by a large margin as tends to happen with Conservatives in this province.  I realize that Fort McMurray-Athabasca is quite a large riding (larger than several European countries in fact) but if a candidate who may end up representing me in Ottawa can't be bothered to show up for a debate in that riding's largest population centre then, really, why the hell would I feel compelled to vote for him?

I did receive some election mail yesterday so I suppose I HAVE heard from the Yurdiga campaign in a sense.  A rectangular laminated card from the Conservatives stating on the front that "Conservatives support the oil sands."   Because apparently the ONLY thing in our riding is the oil sands(?)  Now I realize this is a by-election and candidates aren't going to come out with a full policy platform as in a full-blown election campaign.  But still.  I resent the notion that as a voter I only matter to a politician because the industry I happen to be part of happens to make good money for them.  Now I wouldn't mind it so much if this card addresses other issues but only the oil sands is mentioned.  Mr. Yurdiga, you do realize there are other things going on here other than just what happens a few kilometres up highway 63, right?

On the reverse side of the card are 4 quotes from Liberals (including a senator and a former party leaders) along with a picture of Justin Trudeau.  None of the four quotes were actually spoken by Trudeau but they stick his mug there nonetheless.  Couldn't they have instead brought up some actual issues?  Do I really care about a quote spoken by Stephane Dion seven years ago?  I mean, we all know how that turned out for him.  It's 2014 now.  Try to keep up.

Don't propagandize.  Familiarize.  Familiarize us with your views and what you feel needs to be addressed.  Listen to what we have to say (to be fair, most politicians seem to fail in this).  But please.  There is more to our region than just the oil sands.

Our region needs a voice.  Not another empty chair.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Application Accepted

It's been a few days now since I received the email but I have to admit my head is still swimming.  Graduate school was an idea I had toyed with off and on over the last ten years and I finally found myself giving it some serious thought last spring.  Having been out of academia now for almost 15 years (where has the time gone?) the idea of going back for a masters degree was, I admit, rather daunting at times.  Ten years of living throughout the North also added a host of other historical interests on top of the 50 other things I find interesting within the discipline.  Thankfully, however, I don't have to decide on a research area tomorrow or the next day and I've managed to narrow things down (a little bit).

I began the whole process over a year ago and spent much of my free time in March and April figuring out research ideas and possible schools.  I didn't realize at the time just how long a process this would be but by last September I had the actual application underway.  I spent a couple weeks on this though the actual section where you have to detail your specific areas of interest for research took perhaps a month. I had never written a research proposal before so of course I wanted to take my time and craft a good one.  I'm pretty sure I sweated less when I wrote 30-page papers during my undergrad.  Never has a measly 250-word blurb caused so much angst.  The most time-consuming part was locating references, which, after a 15-year hiatus, was interesting to say the least.  Not without its challenges but obviously possible.  I managed to get in touch with a former professor of mine, now teaching in the US but currently on sabbatical in Germany as well as an acquaintance (and former MLA)  in Nunavut.  I'm pretty sure there aren't too many applications that have had references from such far-flung and radically different parts of the world.  I was hopeful that that in itself would spark some interest among the selection committee.

I should mention too that I was initially planning to apply to 3 schools and Windsor actually wasn't very high on the list.  But since I had done my undergraduate degrees there and lived there more or less continuously for 7 years, I decided to include it on my short list based on the familiarity factor alone.  As an added bonus, some of my favourite wineries are only a short drive away.  Gradually my list of 3 became 2 as I decided the one school would involve too far of a move and it would be nice to be a bit closer to family.  Then, as I was having issues with the one school over writing samples I needed for my application, I took the decisive step back in March of going for broke and focusing all my energies on Windsor.

In the end it all paid off as I've been accepted into the Master of Arts program for History at the University of Windsor.  I will have to take a couple of senior undergraduate courses prior to starting the program just to bring my writing and research skills up to speed but I'll take it as it will make the transition back to academia a little less jarring.  At the risk of getting too far ahead of myself, pursuing a Ph.D has been flitting around my head the last 6 months.  Time will tell.  In the meantime its nice to finally get the ball rolling.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

A Family Re-united and a Stereotype Smashed.

Let's be honest.  Teenagers probably have to be the most stereotyped group out there.  They're lazy.  They're ignorant.  They bitch and complain.  They vandalize.  They think they know everything.  I spent the better part of a decade working with young people in various roles so I think I've heard and seen a lot.  I won't say everything because there are always surprises.  How many times have you passed a group of teens on the street and just thought "ya, up to no good."?  I'll raise my hand.  I admit I've done that myself.

Which is why I found the story of a group of Quebec teens who took it upon themselves to take action and rescue a days-old infant from a would-be kidnapper so refreshing.  Rather than simply seeing a photo on social media and thinking "oh, how sad", they took action.  It's great to see these kids busting stereotypes, although really that should be on us as adults to do that.  How quickly we can be to judge.

At any rate....Sharelle, Marc-Andre, Charlene and Melizanne, YOU GUYS ARE FREAKING AWESOME!  And seriously, if I'm ever in Quebec, the meal's on me!

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Fort McMurray-Athabasca By-election

If the paucity of election signs up around my little neck of Fort McMurray is any indication, the campaign for the June 30 by-election is off to a slow start.  On my way over to Timberlea to run some errands, I only recall seeing 4 signs, and three of them were from the same candidate.  Not that I was especially looking for them but they didn't exactly scream out at me either.  I'm sure things will pick up as time goes on.

I'm not one to read too much into by-elections but it is nice to a little more media exposure on our region, its challenges and needs.  I like to think of a by-election as being an interim report card of sorts and a wise government should always pay attention.  The by-election was precipitated of course, when our previous MP, Brian Jean, resigned.  Even before moving here I knew Jean's name, and not just because of the riding he represented.  I recall getting flyers in my mailbox when I lived in Nunavut about how Party X was going to cut this or that program or scale back funds for this or that but his Party would make sure it didn't happen.  Of course, none of the flyers were in Inuktitut which no doubt upset and confused many unilingual Inuktitut speakers.  Heck, even though it was in English I didn't have a clue what he was talking about half the time.  Part of me can't help but think that perhaps he should have spent more time focused on his own riding and indeed I've heard stories of him mailing out quirky cross-word puzzles about himself.  Just weird.

Anyhow, this post isn't tended to be a dump on the federal Conservatives.  The Liberals definitely have their work cut out for them.  I've read a couple other blogs about how the Liberals could make big gains  on June 30.  They would have to be pretty substantial in my mind, though. to put a dent in the Tory machine, given that a Liberal has never held this riding in its entire 46 year history.  Jean won with a pretty healthy 71% of the popular vote in 2011.  And while you may think the NDP are pretty much invisible here, they did capture more votes than the Liberals in the 2006 and 2011 elections.  Much as I dislike Trudeau though, I will give him credit for visiting our riding not once, but twice in recent weeks.

And if you're bored or disillusioned with the traditional parties, we do have a Libertarian candidate running.  Tim Moen is a pretty polished candidate and has an interesting relationship with Neil Young. His campaign slogan about allowing for "gay married couples to protect their marijuana plants with guns" adds some much-needed colour and conversation to what some may consider a pretty boring affair.

I'll save on any election predictions here.  I'm notoriously bad at them.  Plus, if the last provincial election here taught us anything, its that strange things can happen.  At any rate, I do hope to comment more on the campaign as time goes on and as I have the opportunity to do so.

Candidates for Fort McMurray-Athabasca

Conservative -  David Yurdiga
NDP - Lori McDaniel
Liberal - Kyle Harrietha
Libertarian - Tim Moen

edit - We also have a Green Party candidate running here as well, Brian Deheer.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

A Little Spring Bonanza

Prodded by milder temperatures and a touch of cabin fever, I grabbed the binoculars and headed out for a walk along a pretty familiar route I take. It takes me to a number of good birding areas....urban, boreal forest and some marsh lands....a good mix to see a variety of birds.  I wasn't disappointed.  It was a bit wet underfoot and the weather couldn't decide if it wanted to be sunny or rainy but I managed to set a new personal record for number of species spotted in a single outing, including 3 I hadn't see in some time and a first sighting.

Funny enough I did leave the house thinking to myself "Wouldn't it be great if I saw a Yellow-headed blackbird this afternoon?"  They are a pretty common bird here but oddly I had never seen one until today.  Initially, I even ignored it.  I assumed it was a Brewer's blackbird simply because I've seen quite a few of them so far this season.  They just seem to be everywhere.  Anyhow, I saw one perched atop a small tree but because it was so dark and overcast I only saw a dark shape until it left the tree and flew over an open area to land in a storm pond.  The yellow head stood out prominently against the muted colours of the reeds and surrounding brush.  I couldn't believe my good fortune.

A little further on, I took a rather mucky path behind some houses to get to a marsh that's always good for non-passerines.  Along the way I passed by a house that backed onto the trail and was treated to a nice mix of birds I hadn't seen in quite some time: Yellow-rumped Warbler, which I hadn't seen since the first year I moved here, a few Purple Finches and a White-Crowned sparrow, both of which I had last seen around the house here a couple years ago.  I actually passed the owner of the house who was out walking his dog and was returning through his back gate and admitted I was a bit jealous at the nice avian variety he was getting.

My ultimate destination was the two marshes pictured below.  By the time I reached the second one, it started to rain a bit and I wondered if I would see anything else.  The water was pretty calm and there didn't seem to be much around, although after several minutes and a little effort I was overflown by a number of mallards (not sure how I managed not to get a decent photo) and watched a mating pair of Buffleheads take a leisurely afternoon swim.

I was tempted to venture further closer in to the water here but didn't fancy wet feet.

All in all, not a bad day to spend an hour.  Last year's first big May outing netted me about 10 species for the year list.  This year I managed to top that number with 14, half of which were first sightings for the calendar year.   Here is my full list for the day's venture.....

1. Common Raven (shocking)
2.  Black-billed magpie
3.  Brewer's blackbird
4. Red-winged blackbird
5. Yellow-headed blackbird
6. American robin
7. Chipping sparrow
8. White-crowned sparrow
9. Junco
10. Chicadee
11. Yellow-rumped warbler
12. Purple finch
13. Bufflehead
14. Mallard

Wednesday, April 30, 2014


I didn't really need Stats Canada to tell me about this but it was still interesting to see actual numbers.  Yes, on average, Albertans work more hours per week than anywhere else in Canada.  What did surprise me was the figure of 32.1 hours per week as I thought it would be higher.    No doubt this is because living where I do, long hours by Canadian standards are just par for the course.   It would be interesting to see what the Alberta average is with Fort McMurray taken out of the equation.

I recall one of my foremen telling me just a few weeks back about a fellow he knew who worked a 24 days on/4 days off schedule for an entire year.  Apparently, the guy was investigated by Canada Revenue since some bean counter couldn't believe it was possible to work THAT many hours.  On top of this, he was also putting in overtime.  I couldn't imagine working that many hours myself though I've met a few people that have work 24 and 4 for short periods at a time.  At my peak a couple years ago, I was putting in 84 hours a week.  This number doesn't include the time it took me to get from my bus stop to work.  That was back before a couple of much-needed overpasses were constructed.  Traffic was hellish at times to put it nicely and travel alone would typically add another 2 hours to my already long day.  At the time, I joked that my cat actually owned the house and just let me sleep there during those few hours it seemed that I wasn't either on a bus, waiting for a bus or at work.  Thankfully, I only worked those insane hours for a month before reverting to my average of 55 hours a week.  Currently, I'm averaging 42 hours per week...much easier on the body but again, still above the provincial average.

I bring this all up not to brag about being some sort of super-human but rather to highlight the importance of striking a balance between work and leisure time.  This is, of course, important regardless of where you work but I think it is especially important here.  I'll admit this wasn't always easy for me but I have gotten much better at it.  I count myself lucky as, unlike many, I have a house in town and don't live in camp.  I have a bit of military background so I know I can deal with living in a more institutional-type environment with large groups of people and cafeteria-style food.  I could deal with it but I figure, why put myself through it if I don't have to?  I'm also fortunate in that my hobbies (other than my interest in wine) don't cost a lot of money and can be done pretty much anywhere.

It bears remembering that, although there are many notions out there about this city being a place where  people come and make their riches, that there are often long hours involved as well.  I've heard the line many times too about how if you're not happy with the long hours than just move.  These people then become strangely silent on how exactly then you build a healthier, sustainable community if everyone just up and leaves but I digress.

I know I won't be in Fort McMurray forever.  I'm open and honest about that.   I try to see the good and the bad, which can be a struggle.  There are many things I choose not to write about because I am wary about feeding online trolls and stereotypes.  Long work hours here, though, are just part of the package.  It is what it is.  How you deal with it and strike a balance is the important part.  I don't always have control over my work hours (ok, I very rarely do) but how I choose to deal with it and find that balance is completely up to me.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Motion 503 and Pandering to Bigots

While I never really intended this blog to become what one might term an "advocacy blog" there are certain times when I feel compelled to speak out on certain issues. Motion 503, which would have required school boards to develop policies to support students wishing to establish gay-straight alliance groups and activities in their schools, was defeated on the floor of the Alberta Legislature this past Monday.  While this motion would not have forced school boards to have such groups, it would have compelled them to accept their existence should students feel the need to have one.

It was disappointing, to say the least, to hear that Jeff Johnson, the Minister of Education, voted against the motion.  I was heartened to see that my own MLA voted in favour of the bill.  His constituency office is only a block away so I certainly know where to go if I need to track him down.  Unfortunately, as mentioned. the motion was defeated by a count of 31 to 19.

I do hope our PC government recovers from its seemingly chronic state of cranial-rectal inversion and joins us in the 21st century.  It's only just begun, really.  I'm sure there's lots of room.  Issues of suicide amongst youth due to bullying and homophobia have been unfortunately quite prominent in the media so I won't rehash everything here.  I will only add that any school group that works actively to prevent these tragedies from happening is a good thing and I find it frustrating that our so-called "leaders" would rather pander to bigotry for votes rather than actually move beyond talking and actually DO something about this issue.  Did Johnson actually go out and ask the opinion of his constituents or just pander to a few bigots in his church?  I'd love to get an answer to that one.

I did write an email on this topic to both the Minister Johnson on this issue.  Hopefully he  will grow a brain, recall that government works for US and not the other way around and get back to me on why he chose to vote the way he did.

I eagerly await his response.

Friday, April 4, 2014

How Trudeau Was Upstaged

So Justin Trudeau arrived in our region yesterday to beat the political war drum.  I had planned to write a bit on it and was actually in the process of doing up a post when his majesty was upstaged as a result of a Facebook conversation I had, not with le bebe but with a former student of mine from Nunavut.  I won't mention names here but can say that her kind words were heart-warming and inspiring and provided a welcome end to a long work day.

As a bit of background, I taught in a couple different Nunavut communities from 2003 to 2009, spending 2 years in Qikiqtarjuaq (formerly Broughton Island) and 4 years in Arctic Bay.  I actually didn't have this student in my class very long as she had moved to where I was working for part of a school year before returning to her home community.  As things turned out, I had flown through her community a couple of times and got to know some of the students there through some sports tournaments in Iqaluit I attended as a coach.  Frankly, I think it was only one (perhaps two) courses that I had her for so I didn't think I had really made that much of an impression.

Anyhow, as a way of showing how you can really have an impact on a person without knowing and also as a way of showing that teenagers really do listen (oftentimes more than we give them credit for) I've included a truncated version of our conversation below...minus some bad spelling and parts I'd rather just keep private.  I'll call her Marie.

Marie - How the heck are you?

Me - Not too bad.  You?

Marie - I'm great.  If it wasn't for me taking social studies in Arctic Bay I would never have went into NTEP [here she refers to the Nunavut Teacher Education Program run through Nunavut Arctic College].  I suck at social studies, but you can teach!

Me - Thanks :)

Marie - Take it as a compliment.  You're welcome.

Me - I saw you had done NTEP and were now back in [her home community]. That's awesome.  I really do appreciate that, Marie.

I then went on to mention about how I felt it was important for Nunavut to have local teachers in leadership positions and that she would do well to which she responded that having a mix of teachers from Nunavut and other parts of the country was a positive thing as well.

So there you have it.  I suppose we can all get hung up in image and people who just do a lot of talk.  I like to focus on the young people that actually get out and DO.  In my humble opinion, they do the greatest amount of good...and make the biggest difference.

Thursday, March 27, 2014


This post is re-post from my Nunavut blog that I thought I'd share here.  It never hurts to have more than one platform to get a message out.

Having lived in both Nunavut and Alberta, I'm used to running into stories about celebs spouting off against issues involving seal hunting and the oil sands.  Issues they aren't necessarily that educated about.  I'm not saying that such celebrities are necessarily stupid, but rather ignorant, in the sense that what they espouse is quite often mis-informed.  Which is why when I read about a group of Iqaluit residents starting a seal-fie campaign online, I was keen to show my support.

"Seal-fie" of course, is a play on "selfie" and involves a self-portrait wearing seal products.  This after talk-show host Ellen DeGeneres posted a photo of her at the Oscars with a number of celebs and made a donation in the order of $1.5 million to the Human Society of the United States based on the number of time he selfie was "re-tweeted."

The Inuit seal hunt is something I delved into many times on this blog so I won't re-hash everything here other than to say that I hope DeGeneres (and others of her ilk) are aware of stories like this. Having spent 6 years in Nunavut, I can easily vouch for the difficulty of maintaining a good diet in the face of food insecurity.....and I was single and drawing a government salary as well.

My sealskin kamiks......

Seal skin gloves (one of a few pairs I own, actually)....

Cat seal-fie?

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

25 And In Transition

I was tagged in a little Facebook meme by an old school mate and thought I'd do an extended post here.  Essentially it's a trip down memory lane as I have to think back to when I was 25 and share a few things about my life then.  As it turns out, it was a good age to be randomly assigned since that was a pretty big year in my life with many changes.

At age 25 I had been living more or less on a permanent basis in Windsor, Ontario.  I was finishing up my Bachelor of Education degree there.  I had been a reservist with the Windsor Regiment for the past 18 months or so before moving away from there and taking a student job stocking shelves at an independent grocer while completing my degree.  I didn't drive but found my way around the city pretty good on the transit system.  But really, I was a student.  Where was I going to head off to to spend money?

In August of that year I accepted a teaching position at the high school in Fort Smith, NT.  Moving from Canada's largest southern city to north of the 60th parallel was a big transition but really it was just continuation of my way of showing my individuality and adaptivity.  I adapted well and didn't freeze to death during a long northern winter at least.  It was a tough work year but I managed it and still keep in touch with people I met there after almost 15 years.  I did a great deal of fishing and hiking that year and explored Wood Buffalo National Park.  While I was only there a year it was a very formative year for me in many ways.  I've really bought into the notion of history being circular but do find it interesting that in the intervening years since I lived there I've moved many times and almost done a complete circle geographically as I spent a few years back east and now live a mere 500km south of Fort Smith.  Perhaps in another 10 years or so I'll find myself right back there.

Today, I'm 39.  I live in Fort McMurray (apparently I like forts).  I no longer rent now and have my own ball and chain.....I mean mortgage, er....I mean a pretty comfy place.  By no means a mansion but it keeps the rain off my head.  I also have a cat who seems to think I'm her staff for some strange reason.  I'm still essentially an introvert though I'm not as naive about the world as I was at 25.  I've made poor choices and bad decisions in the interim.  Life can be tough and you get banged around a bit but you get up push on.  I'm not always enamoured with my job but I know I won't be doing it forever and there are many I work with who don't have that luxury.  I have a son who is almost 3 who I don't see as often as I wish but life can be tough at times and I own up for the mistakes I've made.

I still enjoy a good hike and took up bird watching about 5 years ago.  I used to blog quite a bit but have slowed down in the last couple years.  I have hopes of returning to Windsor to complete a Masters degree in History and have hopes of perhaps getting into university teaching or research in the future....and if that doesn't pan out, I've been doing a great deal of research into one day operating my own bed and breakfast or turning my extensive blogging and 5-odd years worth of journaling into a book of some sort about all my northern adventures I've had since I turned 25.  It's been an interesting journey so far.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Redford Resigns

It just seemed like it would be an interesting day this morning when I left for work.  And it was....the first day of a new shift, a pleasant discovery of a recording of all 6 of Bach's Brandenburg Concertos by I Barrochisti, a nice spring dump of snow continuing on as I type this, a mere few hours before the (supposedly) first day of Spring.  But the biggest surprise of the day was undoubtedly the news of the resignation of Premier Allison Redford.

Now without being too partisan here, I can say I'm not particularly surprised or upset.  I had a feeling it might come to this what with the recent caucus defections.  I did think she would have hung on a bit longer as politicians tend to be a bit blind to the writing on the wall.  I don't follow provincial politics that closely.  I'm no die hard.  But the last few months have been like watching a slow train wreck so it has caught my attention from time to time.  Part of me wonders why this region keeps putting Tories in office given that our last MLA was booted out of the party and finished up his tenure as an independent and one of our current MLA's also left the party to sit as an Independent after getting caught with his pants down in the US.  (Literally, the guy was busted for soliciting two undercover officers for sex while on a government trip last summer).  At any rate, it is what it is.  After 40 years in power, the PC's here were in danger of becoming stale.  And while they did make attempts to re-invent themselves during the 2012 election campaign, it seems they were never able to shake their arrogance and sense of entitlement that often comes with too many years in power.

Cuts to post-secondary education, drastic changes to pension plans, questionable spending practices, anti-labour legislation and a seemingly endless barrage of flights to the US, South Africa, Europe and God knows where else only succeeded in alienating her more moderate supporters.  Supporters who would likely have continued to vote Tory if only to ward off the even more right-wing Wildrose Party.

I assume Deputy Premier Thomas Lukaszuk will take over the reigns and try to keep the party from imploding while a new leader is chosen.  Here's hoping that, in the meantime, the party does a good deal of soul-searching and remembers not only why they are in power but also WHO put them there.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Hookers and Blow in Fort Crack?

One thing I get asked about living here is the crime rate.  It's not really something I like to talk about or really think about, not because I want to ignore or whitewash things but simply because I've found the stereotype annoying and removed from the reality of my everyday life.  I'm not naive enough to think that we inhabit a perfect world or that this city isn't without its challenges.  But for the most part, I tend to find out about illicit happenings here pretty much like everyone else in this reading it in the news.  In my 4 years year I can say I've never seen a drug deal go down or a hooker, even in those parts of town in which they supposedly exist, thus feeding into the old "hookers and blow" notion.

Other than a friend of an old tenant a couple of years ago who had sticky fingers, I've had it really good and I've only really heard things second hand or, as I mentioned above, by reading about it in the news.    Still, it was frustrating trying to explain to someone about the stereotypes here with no statistics to back me up.....until now. A study, commissioned by the municipality, by Simon Fraser University criminology professor, Neil Boyd and recently released, sheds some interesting light on this topic.  Actually, what he discovered by analyzing 10 years' worth of crime stats flies in the face of what most people think when it come to crime in Fort McMurray.  Many categories of crime here are in steep decline and are in fact at a lower level than provincial and national averages.  I have to admit to being a bit of surprised myself, if only because I constantly here in the media how my city is awash with hookers and blow.  Consider some of the key findings...

* The rate of break-entry-theft in the region is substantially below provincial and national rates. It is approximately one-third of the Albertan and Canadian rates, with 172 incidents per 100,000 population, while Alberta had 513 and Canada had 504.
* The rate of robbery is well below provincial and national averages: Wood Buffalo had 55 incidents per 100,000 population, while Alberta had 71 and Canada had 79.
* The rate of sexual assault is well below provincial and national averages: Wood Buffalo had 44 incidents per 100,000 population, while Alberta had 75 and Canada had 63.
* The rate of cannabis distribution is substantially below provincial and national averages: Wood Buffalo had 12 incidents per 100,000 population, while Alberta had 33 and Canada had 45.
* The rate of prostitution is nearly identical to provincial and national averages: Wood Buffalo had seven incidents per 100,000 population, while Alberta had eight and Canada had six. 

As Boyd also notes, one big reason per capita crime stats here can appear so inflated is because publications like Maclean's use incorrect population figures.  The municipality's population figures include a rather large transient population in the many camps here while Stats Canada does not.  This of course inflates the per capita figures considerably.  Our population according to Stats Canada is around 65,000 while the municipality pegs it around 116,000.  The municipality includes our transient population in its totals because our camp population, while not living here permanently, also use local medical and social services and other infrastructure. At any rate, Boyd's findings shed some much needed light on this issue.  Media such as Chatelaine, GQ and Maclean's have in the past, painted a very different picture of what I see and experience everyday and its refreshing to see another side to the story.  Frankly, I feel safer here than in say Toronto or Edmonton.  Sure, some of what I feel is based on stereotypes (I'm just not a fan of big cities in general, plus both their hockey teams are just sad) but much of what tends to be said about Fort McMurray is based on silly stereotypes as well.  In this case, its nice to see that what is sometimes written is not always based in reality.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Race To The Bottom Continues for Northland School Division

Since I haven't mentioned it in quite some time, I thought I'd touch base with an a former employer of mine to see how things were coming about.  As school boards go, one can certainly do better than to send your child to Alberta's Northland School Division. As it turns out, not a lot has changed among the enlightened geniuses in the offices over in Peace River. If anything, things seem to have gotten worse for the inept Northland School Division.  With luck these continual consultations and review processes will result in what the Minister of Education should have done in the first place....disband the board, much like putting a feeble horse out of its misery.

My guess is that this will eventually happen.  Of course government by its very nature, moves at glacial speed.  You really can't fix stupid.  It goes way beyond funding levels.  The only real silver lining I can pull out of this mess is that, while the board's superintendent hails from my home province of Ontario (which when I was teaching, was a bit of an embarrassment) at least she is here and not not back east, buggering up my own son's education.

Saturday, February 1, 2014


As a kid I never really realized how many different work schedules there could be.  It all seemed rather simple 9pm to 5pm, Monday to Friday and the rest of the time was your own.  My parents own a small business so they never really fell into this particular demographic (if it really even existed)  but for the longest time I remember assuming that for quite a number of people the 9 to 5'er was the norm.  I only bring this topic up because my own work schedule has changed recently.  Yes, it's changed in the past as well but this one is very new to me and will no doubt take a bit of an adjustment.  While I'm not clairvoyant, I know this particular schedule won't last forever so rather than grip over it, you just pick up and soldier on.

Now as you might imagine, questions of work schedules (particularly for those who work at site) come up quite often here.  After the ubiquitous northern Canadian winter question of "Cold enough for ya?", the question "What's your schedule?" provides some healthy competition.  The answer to this question leads to answers that almost seem like a strange code.  Or least it seemed to me initially, as person with no experience with the resource industry.  10 and 4, 14 and 7, 18 and 3, 24 and 4 were only some of the possible answers.  There are also 8 hour shifts (for office staff), 10 hour shifts and 12 hour shifts.

I started out with my first employer working 10 days on, 4 days off, one of the more common ones.  About a year and a half ago, I was on 11 and 3.  Initially, I wasn't keen on losing a day off but soon came to appreciate an extra day's I figured if its too cold and dark during the winter, I'd rather just suck it up and work it rather than staying home.  It wasn't too long before I was asked to do a lot of overtime so in reality my 11 and 3 schedule morphed into an 18 and 3 schedule which I pretty much worked for the bulk of 2012.  A bit gruelling at times, yes but I'm one of those people that once they get into a solid routine (I thank my military training for this) I'm good to go and adjust rather well.  

As a bit of an aside, one of the things my parents taught me, and taught me well, was that no matter the work you do, find something no one else wants to do and do it well.  I've always found this to be good remedy to ingratiate yourself with your employer and make you a bit more lay-off proof.  So for the better part of two years I was dealing with scaffolding from another sub-contractor that was being dealt with in our yard.  It's mainly used in Europe and while there are a lot of similarities (scaffolding is scaffolding after all), it was a different system that I soon became familiar and comfortable with.  This led to a great deal of overtime for me, hence all the 18 and 3's I worked.  These were 10 hour work days although I did my share of 12 hour days too, which turned out to be a smart move on my part if I may way because....

At the moment I am now on a 7 on, 7 off rotation of 12 hour days.  Oddly, its not the 12 hour days, but the 7 days off part that is the challenge.  Its a bit outside of what I'm used to having worked for longer stretches in the past but, as before, I'll adjust.  I suppose the cat is happy I'm around the house more and it does give an opportunity to get more things done around the house.   As I mentioned earlier, I don't see this particular schedule lasting for me as things will invariably get busier once the spring rolls around.  I suppose my dream schedule would be to work 14 and 7 but its not a decision in my hands.  In the mean time, since I find myself with a few extra days off and a leisurely morning, I think I'll go grab another coffee.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Arctic Bay Promo

This post actually has nothing to do with Fort McMurray or even Alberta, but I felt compelled to do it anyway after seeing an amazing video promo of one of the communities in Nunavut where I was privileged to live  prior to moving out here.  It was created by InMotion, based out of Ottawa and posted on Facebook by Clare Kines, current Economic Development Officer in Arctic Bay.   Truly a magical place.

For me it was definitely a treat to see a professionally-done video about a place I woke up in almost every morning for 4 years.  I instantly recognized the mountain I climbed a handful of times, the bay I would race across on my skidoo at (sometimes) breakneck speeds....even the first house I lived in there makes an appearance.....and of course a number of faces I recognized.  Great memories that will always stay with me.

Click here and prepared to be amazed.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

The Birds of Hiroshima

Evening grosbeaks and Pine grosbeaks eeking out their existence in a nuclear winter.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

This Is My Hiroshima

Initially, I was a bit hesitant to do this but spurred on by fellow blogger Theresa, and also because I haven't posted anything in forever and a day, I decided to take the plunge.  If you are at all familiar with the latest ramblings of Neil Young you have a pretty good idea as to the motivation behind this post.  Theresa raises an excellent point (which I don't think is emphasized enough) that often those critical of the oil sands fail to distinguish between the industry and the surrounding community.  To lump Fort McMurray in with the oil patch is not only dishonest but unfair.  And to draw an equivalence between Fort McMurray and Hiroshima circa August 1945 is the paragon of stupidity.  (Yes, I'm being very careful of my language use here as I'm sure if I let loose on how I really felt about this guy I'd get banned off the internet for life.)  The Order of Canada does not make Young an expert on the oil sands...and apparently a $65 million net worth can't buy common sense either.  My other favourite line is about how Fort McMurray is just a boom town and has no real history but I'll leave that one for today.  Anyhow, I digress.

I thought I'd pick up on Theresa's suggestion in her latest post and post a couple photos of "My Hiroshima" (to borrow her phrase).  Hopefully in the future, I can make this a regular segment.

My Hiroshima includes over 130km of hiking trails, the largest recreation centre in Western Canada, a Junior "A" hockey team having a stellar season, generous people that make it the highest contributing community to the United Way, and my home of course.  It is also the place where my son was born.  Yes, this is My Hiroshima.